Not even managing well

Even Tim Harper, writing in the Liberal friendly Toronto Star, gets that, as he says, “After a flow of asylum seekers over 17 months — not a flood, but also not insignificant — Liberal inaction is not serving would-be refugees, those in legitimate immigration queues, junior governments or Canadians in general.

He begins by explaining that Prime Minister Trudeau’s obvious empathy for the plight of refugees and his challenge to us to ““live up to the values that we cherish as a country”” and his appointment of an Immigration Minister who has a compelling personal story that begins in Somalia and end up on Parliament Hill all worked for him … until they stopped working.

I do not doubt that Justin Trudeau is sincerely concerned about the plight of refugees and I suspect he actually thinks that resettlement in Canada is the best thing we, as a country, can do. I do not agree.

I believe that we, Canadians, do have values and that they include compassion for refugees.

imageI agree that Minister Ahmed Hussen’s story is compelling and even inspiring, he is an able man who has accomplished a lot in the face of adversity … but I’m not sure that personal experience as a refugee, even when coupled with a law degree, makes one well suited to set immigration policy. It’s partly the problem with “cabinet making” in our Westminster style parliamentary democracy ~ every region and major group in the country wants to be ‘represented’ at the cabinet table and Team Trudeau saw a HUGE political advantage in having a cabinet that was 50% female and 50% male and had a broad range of ethnic diversity … how else to explain why e.g. Maryam Monseff found a seat at the Trudeau table while Andrew Leslie did not?

Alan_Kurdi_lifeless_bodyBut the tenor of our times says that image in more important than substance and we can all recall, I’m sure, how this image galvanized the Western world making people demand action. The Harper government promised prudent action but prudence wasn’t on the public’s mind, action was, and Justin Trudeau promised immediate action … it was good politics, albeit making policy ‘on the fly,’ as they say, and it made for wonderful photo-ops, but it’s by no means clear that it was the right answer.

c3f20c33a2336edbf9c054ef2da35e21Our hearts tell us to help and we pass that on to political leaders who are told by officials that there are a couple of effective but very, very difficult and expensive, in the short term, ways to help and several more easier but generally ineffective and costly only in the long term approaches, too … I am never surprised when political leaders choose the easy way. The combination of the basic basic human instincts to want to help, to do something and to do take the comfortable rather than the unpleasant path are normal, I think.

I have explained before that there is a real, albeit difficult and expensive way to address the ongoing refugee crises; it involves two steps:

  • First: take action ~ diplomatic, economic and, sadly, too often military action ~ to change the situation which is creating the refugee problem in the first place. This is, of course, very hard to do, in every way: countries like China and Russia will often veto sanctions or calls for action in the United Nations; it is harder to form a coalition of the willing when there is no UN Security Council resolution calling for the us of force; and no one likes to send their troops into harm’s way when there is no direct threat to one’s own country. This is not a course of action that any Canadian government will want to take, and it is very likely to be anathema to Team Trudeau; and
  • Second: work with the (usually poorer) countries, like Jordan and Kenya, today, who are ‘hosting’ millions of refugees to improve all conditions, including security, in the refugee camps. This ~ helping refugees in their tens and even hundreds of thousands ~ is, usually, more expensive and garners less favourable publicity than welcoming a few thousand refugees to Canada.

It should be pretty clear why no-one does this.

What is less clear is why we, most countries, including America, keep trying things that don’t work …


We have been coping, more or less, with refugee crises for about a century, now … we know, pretty much that resettling people in places where they have little chance of making a better life is a poor choice. Most refugees want to “go home” and rebuild their homes and their lives. We know that’s impossible in a few cases, extraordinarily difficult in others, but not always impossible if we have the fortitude to face down mass murdering tyrants and the like. The fault is not in our stars, we are not fated to stand idly by while millions are driven from their homes; we do so because it is the easier and cheaper course of action; but …


For most of the 20th century the world has been managed, not led. Now, in the 21st century, with a handful of exception ~ China, Germany and perhaps India ~ it is not clear that we even have much good management left in the corridors of power.

That’s our situation in Canada … we have a minor border crisis: a competent manager, someone like, say, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, would have solved it early on. On the evidence of the past year, Justin Trudeau, Ahmed Hussen and Ralph Goodale are not good managers and none of them is any sort of leader. They are handing our money and asking Nigeria to help us secure our own border, that certainly is not leadership and it looks, to me, like panic, not management.


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